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ombudsman news

issue 87

July/August 2010

ombudsman news "Q&A" page

featuring questions that businesses and advice workers have raised recently with the ombudsman's technical advice desk - our free, expert service for professional complaints-handlers.

What can my business do if we don't agree with an adjudicator's view on a complaint that's been made about us-

Please engage early on - and as fully as possible - with the adjudicator working on your case. Don't hold back your facts and arguments for later. Your adjudicator will have seen many cases before that are similar to yours - and will have a pretty good idea of how the ombudsman would be likely to view your particular case.

If you don't agree with the adjudicator's initial informal view, explain your concerns to them - setting out your reasons and any new facts and arguments. If you still disagree after the adjudicator has responded to your concerns, then you can 'appeal' by asking for a review and a final decision by an ombudsman. This only happens in around one in ten cases.

A final decision by the ombudsman is binding on you, if the consumer accepts it. It's the end of our process - so you should make sure you've presented all your arguments and facts to us well before this stage.

Don't wait for the ombudsman's decision and only then send us a lengthy detailed submission, arguing why we are wrong. You need to have raised all your points before then, and we will give you plenty of opportunity to do this.

Because we are a public body - providing a service to the public - we can be 'judicially reviewed' by the courts. A judicial review will generally focus on the way in which an ombudsman has arrived at a decision, not on the individual facts and merits of the dispute itself. Simply disagreeing with the ombudsman is not generally considered grounds for judicial review. So you would probably want to have obtained your own legal advice before deciding to begin judicial review proceedings.

What's your approach when a consumer claims for distress and inconvenience-

We consider this separately from any redress we may award to put the consumer in the financial position they would now be in, if the business hadn't got things wrong.

We do not believe consumers should automatically be compensated for having to make a complaint. If a business has handled a consumer's complaint fairly and promptly - explaining clearly why it did not consider the complaint justified - then we may decide the consumer has not suffered any significant inconvenience in pursuing the matter.

But where we think the consumer faced obstacles and difficulties that we would not expect, as part of the normal process of pursuing a complaint, we might tell the business to pay the consumer a specified sum, as compensation for particular distress or inconvenience.

The amount involved is usually modest - up to £300. Exceptionally, we may award more than £1,000 if we believe the business has handled the complaint particularly poorly, causing the consumer clear hardship and aggravation.

For more information about our approach, see our technical note, compensation for distress, inconvenience or other non-financial loss.

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For printed copies of this or any of our publications, phone 020 7964 0092 or email publications.

ombudsman news gives general information on the position at the date of publication. It is not a definitive statement of the law, our approach or our procedure.

The illustrative case studies are based broadly on real-life cases, but are not precedents. Individual cases are decided on their own facts.